He who refuses to do the arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense”. - John McCarthy, Stanford University

Monday, August 16, 2010

John O'Hurley in Deep Pig Poop

“I was standing in the amber waters of the River Ganges, elbow to elbow with the fish wives of New Delhi and a thought occurred to me... this water smells.” - John O'Hurley giving a "Peterman" comment on founding Energy-Inc.

Some of you may already be aware of the advantages of plasma gasification for converting organic waste to energy. The problem is finding an appropriate waste stream to apply it to and a corresponding appropriate demand for the heat and electricity produced. Well John O'Hurley (Sienfeld's J. Peterman) may have identified just such an application, hog farms. Hog farms, noted stinkmeisters, produce not only bacon the singularly most perfect food known to man, but also a steady stream of organic waste (pig poop).

Plasma gasification uses a plasma arc torch to produce extremely high temperatures from 5000 to 20,000 degrees in a low oxygen environment (pyrolysis as opposed to combustion). This converts organic molecules to syngas, a natural gas like compound that can be burned to produce clean electricity.

John O’Hurley has formed a company called Energy-Inc to market plasma gasification technology. According to Energy-Inc's website their system is installed onsite at a hog farm and can process the daily waste of three thousand hogs converting it into enough heat and electricity to meet all the farms needs for both with excess electricity to be sold on the grid. As the electricity is considered "green" it can be sold at premium rates. Though O'Hurley talks about making landfills obsolete that kind of capacity is many years in the future. The first thing it will make obsolete is toxic waste disposal facilities, EPA rules permitting.

Energy-Inc. is also pursuing deals with hospitals. A large hospital producing under 20 tons of trash a day, some of it medical waste that has to be handled at a higher rate, can eliminate its trash service and offset some of its electric and heating bills. I would also expect large office buildings to make use of this type of system given their waste output is organic rich paper and plastic and the financing can be wrapped into the building cost.

My question as always is does it makes "cents"? How vulnerable is their business model to fluctuations in the price of the electricity saved and of the "green" electricity sold? The markets for many green technologies collapse in recessions due to cancellation of government subsidies. Can it operate without interruption, as the hogs do? If it can't be relied on to handle the waste 24/7 then it will not displace the cost of standard disposal systems. And how many hog farms can cough up the 3.5 million dollars to buy one of these units?

Good luck Peterman.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Wallis and Futuna and Cement Carbon Sequestration

The tiny island nation of Wallis and Futuna lies in western Polynesia a few hundred miles north east of Fiji. So remote it doesn't even receive much tourism even though it is a beautiful place.

About 15,000 people live here surviving on a primarily subsistence agriculture economy with GDP per capita around 12,000 most of that from French government subsidies.

Cement Carbon Sequestration if you have not heard of it is using CO2 from emissions to mix with seawater and produce cement which permanently holds to CO2 preventing it from becoming part of atmospheric CO2. Many have supported this as a means to reduce carbon emissions. Granted that cement production contributes around 5% of global CO2 emission. However this production process is nearly twice as energy intensive as conventional cement production so net carbon reduction is negligible.

What does this have to do with Wallis and Futuna? If all cement in the US were produced with this method rather than conventional production it would offset the carbon footprint of Wallis and Futuna. So while the technology is interesting and possibly even economic in some applications it cannot possibly scale to have any impact on global carbon emissions.